The Austin Chronicle

“Dumb” Rounds to Be Manufactured Nearby, Amid Calls to Stop Sending Them to Israel

Imprecise and massive Howitzer rounds kill civilians

By Maggie Q. Thompson, December 22, 2023, News

We know the vast majority of those killed in Gaza have been civilians by design. Hospitals and designated "safe zones" full of fleeing moms and kids have been hit. "The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy," Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in October. Just last week, a U.S. intelligence assessment found roughly half of the Israeli munitions dropped on Gaza are imprecise "dumb bombs." When questioned about the finding, an Israeli spokesperson told CNN, "We do not address the type of munitions used."

To help Israel bomb Gaza – a city half the geographical size of Austin and much more dense – the U.S. is sending tens of thousands of explosives that the United Nations and humanitarian groups say cannot be targeted to avoid civilians in urban settings. Soon, one of Israel's most problematic munitions will be manufactured just three hours north of Austin.

Our weapons dealing plays a critical role in what the U.N. calls "risk of genocide in Gaza." Last month, our country agreed to send at least 2,000 Hellfire missiles that can be launched from Apache helicopters, 36,000 rounds of 30mm cannon ammunition, and 1,800 M141 bunker-buster munitions, according to a Pentagon document leaked to Bloomberg.

But mostly, our government is sending 155mm Howitzer shells – some of those "dumb" munitions that are, by their nature, indiscriminate. Howitzer munitions often land 25 meters away from the intended target. When they explode, they expel 2,000 metal fragments that can kill anyone within 300 meters of the blast (about three football fields' distance), according to human rights org Oxfam. When we use these kinds of explosives in populated areas, the U.N. says that on average 90% of the victims are civilians. That's why humanitarian aid groups wrote to our secretary of defense last month urging the U.S. to refrain from providing more of these rounds.

"Simply put," they wrote, "it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which high explosive 155mm artillery shells could be used in Gaza in compliance with IHL," or international humanitarian law. IHL also prohibits bombing hospitals, but Gazans have found 155mm illuminating shells in hospitals bombed in Gaza. There are many types of Howitzer rounds, and these ones are used primarily to light up a battle area, though their flames and discarded carriers can also be lethal.

Neither the humanitarians' letter nor reports of hospitals blasted with Howitzer shells has stopped the U.S. from sending more – at least 57,000 of them, according to a Pentagon document Bloomberg obtained.

The U.S. doesn't have enough of these 155mm munitions to keep up with Ukraine's and Israel's demands, so Texas will soon produce thousands more each month. This will help the U.S. government reach its goal of roughly quadrupling the number of Howitzer munitions we manufacture each year by 2025.

The new General Dynamics factory in Mesquite, Texas – about 14 miles east of Dallas – is still being built out and will come online in late 2024, a U.S. Army spokesperson told the Chronicle. Economically, the factory has been a boon to the city of Mesquite, with a population of about 150,000. To date they've hired 25 people, with 46 positions open. "During the ramp-up, walking through the new office space, and seeing people busy at work – in a brand-new building in such a professional atmosphere – is exciting," a city spokesperson told us.

So far, the buildup to manufacturing has created construction jobs and generated sales tax revenue; they've seen an increase in hotel and restaurant patrons, and "media buzz [has been] bringing attention and credibility to Mesquite as a place for manufacturing." The city spokesperson said it's too soon to know how General Dynamics' financial investment in the school district and training programs will manifest, but "connections have been made and conversations have started and we anticipate they will be great community partners as they have in other locations."

It's possible these shells won't end up blown apart in Gaza. (The Army spokesperson declined to answer whether the shells would go to Ukraine, Israel, or our own stockpiles, or what types of shells would be produced: high explosive, illuminating, smoke, etc.) Ukraine has received many more Howitzer shells – since the war began nearly two years ago, the U.S. has sent Ukraine more than 2 million of them and has spent $46 billion on military aid for Ukraine, compared to $3.8 billion spent on Israeli military aid this year.

In Ukraine, we're supporting the country with the most civilian casualties – 10,000 civilians, including more than 560 children. In the first year and a half of the war, there were only 79 Russian civilian casualties, while in the first two months of Israel's retaliation in Gaza, 18,000 civilians have been killed. Two-thirds of the Gaza dead have been women and children, according to the U.N. Security Council. In real time, a Palestinian child died every 10 minutes in November.

"Providing weapons that knowingly and significantly would contribute to unlawful attacks can make those providing them complicit in war crimes," Human Rights Watch said in a November letter demanding that allies of Israel and backers of Palestinian armed groups stop sending them weapons. But the U.S. is not slowing down. On Dec. 9, the State Department sidestepped congressional approval to sell more than $100 million in tank supplies to Israel. On Dec. 10, the Biden administration blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire, despite near-unanimous support for the resolution from member states. Two days later – and just hours before the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand a cease-fire – Biden said Israel was losing international support because of its "indiscriminate bombing." But in Israel Monday, the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed to continue sending weapons, saying, "I'm not here to dictate timelines or terms."

Editor's note Jan. 9, 1:55pm: This story has been updated. It incorrectly stated Gaza is equally as dense as Austin; it is much more dense. The Chronicle regrets the error.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.